Despite attempt to deflect attention, Haverhill School Committee upholds Whittier Middle’s claim

Last night the Haverhill School Board agreed to ask the state again to replace or renovate John Greenleaf Whittier School, but not before they wandered off into other school replacement ideas.

The submission of another Expression of Interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s core program refers to the 65-year-old building as outdated and in need of major repairs. While the motion to submit the request passed unanimously, Mayor James J. Fiorentini attempted to divert attention to the John C. Tilton School and warned, either way, with the request to the Dr. Albert B. Consentino School already in the works, additional state applications will go nowhere.

“We all know it’s an exercise in futility. At some point JG Whittier needs to be replaced, but he certainly doesn’t need to be replaced at the moment. The school I think we should be looking at carefully to be next is Tilton,” the mayor said.

Committee members agreed that Tilton also needed a major update, but member Paul A. Magliocchetti floated the idea that perhaps Tilton’s school, which houses 300 to 400 students, could put out to pasture.

“If we get the bigger school in Consentino and then do something similar to where JG Whittier is, I think we’ll have the capacity to handle the kids in Tilton and maybe we’ll just reorient Tilton,” he explained.

Magliocchetti said such a plan could save taxpayers millions of dollars. Fiorentini expressed doubts and said he would like to see the actual numbers.

Committee member Richard J. Rosa added that not moving forward with the Whittier School could be a costly mistake.

“I hope the city has learned its lesson. Kicking the road doesn’t save taxpayers money, because if we had done Consentino five years ago, we probably would have saved taxpayers $50 million and that’s no exaggeration. This is the reality,” he said.

Rosa took advantage of the discussion to suggest that a checkbox on the state’s request be checked, indicating that the city would consider school consolidation. He further argued that the first schools to be scrapped should be those that are leased. He noted that the city spends $400,000 a year renting St. James School, now known as Tilton Upper, and Temple Emanu-El classrooms. Whether or not the state considers other schools while Consentino is underway, Rosa said, the state will at least realize the city is serious about Whittier.

In addition to Rosa’s motions, the committee gave unanimous approval to the mayor’s request, put forward as a courtesy by school committee member Scott W. Wood Jr., to develop a plan for the school’s future. Tilton.